Proposed 2024 Municipal Budget presented, Council provides direction to find savings
Tim Brody - Editor
Sioux Lookout Municipal Councillors and members of the community got their first look at the proposed 2024 Municipal Budget on Feb. 1 during a special council meeting at the Municipal Office.
Approximately 16 members of the public were in attendance.
Municipal Treasurer Carly Collins stated her presentation would cover property assessments, operating and uncontrollable costs, one time projects, donation requests, and capital projects.
The Municipality had shared on its website on Jan. 31, “There are generally two ways that Municipal revenues increase - assessment growth and increasing the tax rate. For many years, we have been able to balance the budget with small increases to the tax rate as property assessments were updated and property values changed.” The Municipality further informed, “When the pandemic struck in 2020, the Ministry of Finance put a freeze on property assessments. You may also hear these referred to as MPAC assessments. The Ministry of Finance is not supporting Ontario municipalities to help compensate for this loss of revenue; now we must recover this revenue through tax rate increases.”
According to information shared on the Municipality’s website, “The single largest expense category (in the 2024 budget) is ‘uncontrollable costs.’ These are expenses that are mandatory and the Municipality has minimal influence on. This category includes policing costs, levies from the Kenora District Services Board (KDSB), Kenora District Home for the Aged, Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU), and over half a million dollars in insurance costs. There are a few items in this category that Council has a small amount of control over, but is still obligated to pay… This includes funding for the Sioux Lookout Public Library and the Travel Information Centre.”
Factoring in operating expenses, capital projects and one time projects, uncontrollable costs and donation requests, a
10.86% tax levy would have been required to balance the 2024 budget.
Councillor Joan Cosco said she felt savings could be found within the contracted services, admin costs, and supplies sections of the budget.
Collins shared in her budget report, “The Municipality supports the operations of the Sioux Lookout Public Library. Every year, the Library Board submits an operating budget to the Municipality with a request for support. The (Library) has requested an increased from 2023 to 2024 in the amount of $12,962. Council asked the Sioux Lookout Public Library to review its budget one more time to try to find some savings.
Council also decided not to approve donation requests from the Sturgeon River Cottagers’ Association, Sioux Lookout Regional Physicians’ Services Inc., Northern Lights Community Theatre, and the Nordic Nomads Cross Country Ski Club.
Council also decided not to approve a Heritage, Culture and Tourism Intern position, which would have cost $19,000.
After consideration, council did decide to move forward with a Tourism Diversification and Infrastructure Enhancement Study in the amount of $10,000, which Collins described in her report, “Municipality currently is awaiting approval from FedNor of $190,000 to support the total $200,000 project cost. The purpose of the study is to explore the implementation of a tourism diversification strategy, including the feasibility of related infrastructure enhancements. The (study) will also examine necessary investments such as a swimming pool, an arena, a wellness centre, and the impact of related Cedar Bay improvements.”
Council was informed by staff that some things in the budget could be covered by the Municipality’s portion of MAT Tax.
Municipal CAO/Clerk Brian P. MacKinnon informed after the meeting where a potential tax rate increase stands at, “The absolute maximum was 10.86%, but Council decided quickly on one of the options, which lowered it to 9.84%. Council also provided other direction on the use of the Municipal Accommodation Tax to cover certain costs that were going to be funded from the tax base, along with other direction. The second draft of the budget will be presented at the next Special Meeting, which will occur during the first week of March.”
He added, “Staff will be reviewing all areas of the budget, and will be providing additional information to Council at the March Special Meeting with respect to contracted services, admin costs, and supplies.”